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Frequently Asked Questions


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Are there "good" and "bad" versions of the Bible?  (top)

Yes, there are good and bad versions of the Bible. This can be put down to three main factors: 1. The original languages are not spoken any longer; 2. The original manuscripts (MSS) of the Bible are long gone (what has survived are thousands of copies, each with slight to slightly-significant variations); 3. The motives, methods and ability of translators will vary.

The inability to easily translate the original languages means that words with double meanings may not be conveyed, phrases that allude to others may not have the same effect when translated, and the exact meaning may not be known or have an equivalent in the language it is to be translated into.

The problem of having copies of copies (of copies) of the original manuscripts (with the possibility of mistake in the process), is to some extent only a mathematical problem, and a great deal of study and research must go into deciphering which manuscripts are the most reliable, and so which to base a translation upon. The good news is that since so many copies were made of all or part of the Bible; pretty much right from when they were written, any mistake made in any one copy will be reflected in all its 'descendants' (all the manuscripts copied from it) but they will all be mistakes that, when compared to other 'families' of copies, is obvious. A great deal of study and time is devoted by some scholars to tracing 'families' of manuscripts (both full and partial copies) in order to get the most accurate rendering. In this way, the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek used to translate for today's best Bible translations will be more accurate than both the most accurate single manuscript we have surviving and the oldest surviving manuscripts.

The motives of translators can impact upon the translation in that they may aim their work at theological students, or at children, or at adults; they may also be aiming to provide a Bible to new Christians, that explains concepts that may otherwise be misunderstood. The translator may also be influenced by political views, such as the idea to remove gender-specific language. The methods of translation can either be an attempt at word-for-word translation, or "thought-for-thought"; the new translation can be a revision of a previous translation, or an entirley new rendering; or the translator may aim to translate into a certain form or level of language. There is also (unfortunately) the case where some translators may have been influenced by a desire to make the contents of the Bible what they want it to be, and so translate inaccurately on purpose. It is these latter that I will classify as bad translations - they are not God's word, they are the word of man at odds with the word of God.

These many considerations then, indicate that the best translation is still not as good as the original; however, a solid, essentially literal, modern translation by a team of leading scholars should be ideal for most purposes; and a paraphraistic or non-literal translation may be considered for children, those new to the faith, or in addition to the literal (perhaps for devotional purposes?).

(Read a fuller response, with links to other good sites here.)

How did the Bible come down to us?  (top)

The Bible is made up of two principal parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament (though this division is imposed by man). Each is basically a collection of documents, that over the years were recognised as being "inspired of God", and "canonised" (made to be a standard of truth). The Old Testament is based upon the Jewish Scriptures, the New Testament is that written by the Apostles and other witnesses of Christ's life.

The Jewish Canon of Scripture (Tanak) was written over a period of Millennia, and was most likely recognised as Scripture in various stages. It is reasonably clear that 'the Law' (Genesis - Deuteronomy) was the first to receive popular recognition as Scripture, and did so before c.170 BC, perhaps even as early as or earlier than c.450 BC. The set of Books known as 'the Prophets' were probably recognised c.170 BC but definitely recognised as authoritative by the early 1st Century AD. 'The Writings' were the last to receive popular recognition as a distinct group, but probably achieved this during the 1st Century AD, perhaps earlier.

The first exact time we can give as to an 'official canon' will most likely be c.100 AD at the Councils of Jabne (or Jamnia), where it is widely believed that doubts over Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were put to rest and the Canon set and recognised by most Jews.

While it is impossible to directly ascertain the criteria for acceptance into the canon use dby the members of the councils, it seems that canonisation was a result of authorship by a recognised Prophet (implying Divine inspiration) and a self-evident authority derived from within the text itself.

(For more information on the formation of the Old Testament Canon, see here.)

The New Testament arose out of a need for authoritative teaching on God and Jesus Christ. By the year 397 A.D., councils from Churches had agreed on the 27 books now forming the New Testament, and arrived at this decision based on the authority of the texts themselves.

Basically, any text unquestioningly ascribed to an Apostle of Jesus was included in the Canon; and any text unquestioningly ascribed to a disciple of an Apostle (e.g., Mark and the Gospel of Mark) was included.

There were several texts included that were not unanimously believed to have been written by such authors, but these texts received their inclusion as they: a) possessed self-evident authority; b) were not heretical (as based on Apostolic teaching); c) had been used extensively in part of the Church for some time; and d) were written within a relatively short period after Jesus' death, to ensure eye-witness authority.

(For more information on the formation of the New Testament Canon, see here.)

Following the setting of the books that were part of the Scriptures, the Bible has been preserved as likely the most accurate document to come down from antiquity - likely matching the originals in just about every important aspect.

(For more information on the Bible itself, see here.)

Why does God allow suffering?  (top)

Suffering is all around us, and even the most faithful amongst us will at some point ask God in perplexion why He allows suffering. And when they ask it will be with exclamation and even accusation, along with their sorrow - for sorrow is real, suffering is real and impacts upon everyone. If God is in control and is Almighty why does He allow it to continue?!

The Bible gives us several points to consider, that together help to answer the question, but cannot do so fully: -

  • The first is that suffering was not God's intention for the human race, though He knew it would come. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden lived without suffering or pain. God knew in creating the world however, everything that would happen - including the arrival of sin and suffering - He knew this because He knows everything.
  • The second is that suffering came as a result of man - not of God. Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. Suffering is the result of sin, and so suffering comes from man and woman - not God. We are all descended from them and have inherited their sinful nature and world - we are sinners too and live in a world tainted by sin. Therefore we must expect suffering.
  • The third is that God has and does act to limit suffering, and has ultimately acted to end suffering. God acts to limit suffering in 4 ways: -
    • He has told us how to live to limit suffering. Consider all the pain and suffering that has come from the effects of sexually transmitted diseases. God has made it clear that he intends and desires for us to live in monogamous, committed relationships. If we had obeyed this always, STDs by definition would never have existed. If we all began to obey this rule now, STDs would be all but wiped out within a generation. That is to me the most obvious example of God telling us better ways to live that will limit suffering. In addition to that he has told us to love each other, to share with each other. We have the means to do so - but we choose not to. God has provided the way, but as a race we have ignored him and brought suffering upon ourselves - well, suffering upon others.
    • He acts through circumstance and the world. The Bible has example after example of God positively acting in the world through circumstance or miracle to make things better.
    • The Bible also tells us that when painful things happen, God still uses them to produce good. This is often the hardest to see, and I often feel like I can't see the hidden ways in which the world is better because of a terrible thing that happened, but ultimately God's word tells us that it is so.
    • Finally, God also acted in the past in sending Christ to suffer and die. Thats' right, God experienced our suffering too - dying on the cross, the most painful form of execution known at the time. The result of Jesus' death, is that after our years - or minutes - on earth in suffering, the way is open for all with faith in Christ to live without suffering for eternity. The years of suffering must occur in order that we can see the problem of sin and find its solution in Christ. Without the fallen world, would we see clearly our need for a Saviour? So we must persevere in this world of pain in order that we may enjoy the world to come and call others into it as well.

(Read a fuller response here.)

Is the Trinity taught in the Bible?  (top)

Often the first thing you will hear from someone who does not believe in the Trinity, is that the word, "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible. And they're absolutely right - but that doesn't prove anything. "Trinity" is just a term - or a name - given to a set of related teachings in the Bible about God. These related teachings are listed below: -

  • There is only one God: "I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other." (Isaiah 45:5-6)
  • The Father is God: Jesus prayed to His Father, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3)
  • Jesus Christ is God: "...we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..." (Titus 2:13)
  • The Holy Spirit is God: "Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."" (Acts 5:3-4)
  • The Father, Son and Spirit are each separate: Jesus said, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)

An Excerpt From
The Athanasian Creed
(c.400 AD)

...the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity (="truth") to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords...

Each of these five statements are easily proved from numerous passages in the Bible, but because they are not easily reconciled, they are grouped together under the term "Trinity" (which means "tri-unity" - "three in one"). This is what God has revealed about himself and should be remembered accurately.

Now, what isn't explained in the Bible, is how this works. I often think of the Trinity as "1+1+1 = 1". I can't comprehend it, but it doesn't mean that it's not true. How can one be three? How can three be one? The Bible doesn't answer, and therefore, neither will I try. But I will point out that God doesn't promise to enlighten us with a complete understanding of Him. He is our creator, and it's not too surprising to me that there are things about him that are impossible to understand.

It is also important to note that the teachings of the Trinity were progressively revealed in the Bible. That is, whereas the Old Testament is more inclined to suggest or imply that God exists in three Persons (for example Gen. 1:26, 3:22; Ps. 45:6-7 cf. Heb. 1:8; and Isa. 63:10), the New Testament reveals this truth more explicitly (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:14, 1 Pet. 1:2, and Jude 20-21). The teaching on the Trinity is not supposed to explain the tri-unity of God, but is instead intended to preserve and contain the Biblical teaching concerning God - the five statements listed above.

(Read a fuller response here.)


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